Blue and Gold Illustrated

December 2019

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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40 DECEMBER 2019 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED WOMEN'S BASKETBALL BY LOU SOMOGYI T he date Nov. 11 was the official Veteran's Day this year for for- mer military members of the United States. For Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw and the 2019-20 Fighting Irish, a different form of veteran's day took place Nov. 23 when it heav- ily leaned on fifth-year senior and graduate transfer guards Destinee Walker (from North Carolina) and Marta Sniezek (from Stanford) in their 76-72 upset of No. 21-ranked Michigan in Ann Arbor. A former Pac-12 All-Defensive honorable mention selection, Sniezek was recruited to distribute on offense and apply fierce pressure up top on defense. Versus the Wolverines, she handed out five assists to go with five steals, and ratcheted it up in the fourth quarter when Michigan con- nected on just 2 of 13 shots from the field and had seven turnovers. "You expect that your veterans are going to step up because they've been there," McGraw said. "Marta played with such grit. She was every- where. She got rebounds at crucial times, she got some big steals and she drove the ball. She really made a lot of things happen for us. "I was really pleased with her lead- ership, which continues to evolve and just get better every day." Meanwhile, on offense Walker detonated with 27 points on 9-of-14 shooting from the field, notably 5 of 8 from three-point range where the Fighting Irish had been severely and uncharacteristically lacking early in the season. A 2015 McDonald's All-American who was ranked No. 17 nationally in her class by ESPN HoopGurlz and was a member of the USA U18 Na- tional Team, Walker made the All- ACC Freshman team in 2016 while averaging 13.9 points per game. In- juries then began to derail her career at the tail end of her sophomore year, and truncated each of her past two seasons. For most of the first five games this season, she attempted to get her bas- ketball rhythm back, and in the 72-69 defeat to Michigan State Nov. 14 reached her nadir on the floor when in 32 minutes she was 0 of 2 from the field, had two rebounds, one assist and fouled out. "At the beginning of the year I was putting a lot of pressure on myself, coming back from the injury and not playing for a while," Walker said. "I started to overthink a lot. Before the Michigan game, I tried to make an ef- fort to just play my hardest. … I just tried to show my leadership presence the whole game. I felt some comfort going into it. "I try to give each of my teammates confidence going in, not to be ner- vous, that we're a great team and that if we figure things out we can win. I feel like sometimes I start off hot, and then I kind of drag out. Against Michigan, I was fortunate enough to make it all the way through the game. "We're a new team, but we have a lot of chemistry already." The nucleus of the team in com- ing years will feature freshmen Sam Brunelle and Anaya Peoples at for- ward and guard, respectively, while sophomore wing Katlyn Gilbert also has three seasons of eligibility after this one because of medically red- shirting last season. All were McDonald's All-Amer- icans like Walker, but now with Sniezek and Walker emerging more to take the load off them, the overall squad has a better opportunity to grow and thrive. "The best thing about the Michigan game was Destinee had 27 points, and it gives both freshmen a little bit of a sigh of relief of you don't have to carry the whole load," McGraw said. "We have other people that are going to do it." Brunelle entered the fourth quar- ter of the Michigan game with only three points, but with the Wolverines concentrating on Walker, she tallied nine points in the closing minutes, highlighted by a back-breaking three. "She comes out of the game think- ing, 'I want to play better, I want to help the team more, but at the same time I don't have that pressure on me,'" McGraw said of lessening the burden on the prized freshmen. "The biggest thing it gives us is the knowl- edge that we can beat these teams. It gives us a lot of hope and definitely a confidence. Walker scored a season-high 27 points and equaled a career best with five three-pointers to help Notre Dame rally past Michigan 76-72 Nov. 23. PHOTO BY MIKE MILLER THE OLD GUARDS Graduate transfers Destinee Walker and Marta Sniezek are helping allay pressure during Notre Dame's youth movement

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